Although it was just a cold can of corn, it might just as well have been the finest caviar, based on how quickly she was eating it and the look of utter satisfaction that was on her face. It is an image that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
It was a scorching hot Sunday afternoon in late July last year when the phone call came in on the after-hours line in the rectory. I was still new to the parish and was working at getting settled into the house. Luckily, I was able to answer the phone with the correct name of the parish. As I listened, the woman on the other end of the line began to share her story with me. She had recently been diagnosed with cancer and had begun her chemotherapy treatments. While the treatments seemed to be working, they were exacting an awful toll on her body. She had been feeling awful for several days and had not been able to work. The cost of her recent hospitalization had used up her meager savings and she was not yet feeling well enough to return to work on a regular basis. Her funds were getting low and she was scared.
At the same time, she remembered that her mother had told her that if she ever had any trouble, the best place she could turn to was a Catholic church. Her mother had done so when she was young, and with God’s grace and the generosity of those parishioners, they were able to get through their challenges. Now, as an adult, she found herself in desperate straits and did not know where to go for help. Eventually it came to her – find the nearest Catholic church and ask for help. She didn’t know Fenton well, so she stopped at an area business to ask for directions to the local parish – St. John the Evangelist – of which I was the newly arrived pastor.
I had been there long enough to be introduced to some of the resources in the parish – including the food pantry that is operated by our parish St. Vincent de Paul. I gave her directions to the proper location and met her there a little while later. Her plight was pretty clear and I was glad that she had followed her mother’s advice from years ago.
She was obviously weak and tired, so I encouraged her to just stay with her well-worn car while I obtained the bags of food that she sought for her family. It took several trips from pantry to car for me to load everything into her trunk. Between my first and second trips, she managed to locate and open that can of corn. She was so hungry that she was gobbling it by the handful as she was seated on her car’s doorsill. In 15 minutes, she had food, a gas card, and a couple gallons of milk. She got in her car, drove off and I have not seen her since.
In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus sets forth his expectations for us as his disciples and what we are called to do. They are the corporal works of mercy, and they will be our focus for 2015. As Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta often said, “The poor are Jesus in his most distressing disguise.” I have no doubt about whom it was that I met on that scorching hot July afternoon. The corporal works of mercy remind us that when we meet Jesus in need we are to respond to that need as best as we are able, even if it is with a few bags of groceries that happen to contain a cold can of corn. And so our journey in FAITH continues.
A special note of thanks. Deacon Tom and Jo Fogle have been contributors to the Marriage Matters column in FAITH for many years. Even though they have decided to retire from their role as regular contributors, I take this opportunity to express my thanks to them for their faith-filled insights. Through the years, their wise advice has helped so many couples to enrich or heal their marriages. May God bless and keep you both in the years ahead!